Riley named Hospital of the Year by Mended Little Hearts

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08/26/2021

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Organization that supports pediatric heart patients and families honors the cardiac team for its partnership over the years.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Hospital of the Year. It has a nice ring to it, right?

Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health has been recognized as the Central Region Hospital of the Year by the Mended Little Hearts organization.

The award is presented to a hospital in recognition of its “outstanding service and support to heart patients and their families.”

Dr. Larry Markham, chief of the division of pediatric cardiology at Riley, couldn’t be more pleased, especially considering the Central Region includes hospitals in several surrounding states, including Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, West Virginia and western Pennsylvania.

“Anytime you’re recognized by a patient or family organization as a team that stands out, it’s just validation that you’re on the right path, paying attention to families and providing the care they expect,” Dr. Markham said.

Mended Little Hearts is a nationwide organization that supports and advocates for pediatric patients with congenital heart defects.

The group’s Indianapolis chapter sponsors family events, educational opportunities and toy giveaways, including its Bravery Bag and Bravery Chest programs.

When a child is diagnosed with a congenital heart defect, parents and caregivers often feel very alone. Their world has been rocked. But Riley has partnered with Mended Little Hearts to change that.

“THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH HIS HEART”

Ronda Adamo knows that firsthand. Nearly seven years ago, the Garrett, Indiana, grandmother and her family were reeling from the news that her grandson, Brandon Halsey, was born with multiple heart defects and had to be airlifted to Riley.

Adamo wrote about that experience, sharing an excerpt here:

“It was around 2 a.m. when we heard the words that forever changed our lives. ‘There is something wrong with his heart.’ The doctor in CVICU at Riley brought in a drawing of his heart and sat with us for what felt like hours, explaining his complex heart, answering our questions, guiding us on where to find more information, (explaining) risks and possible treatments/surgeries that Brandon would need.”

Adamo recalls how she and her family were looking for support resources “because we just felt so alone,” and learned about Mended Little Hearts, the pediatric offspring of Mended Hearts.

The Indianapolis chapter was small at the time, she said, but the organization sent the family one of its Bravery Bags, filled with snacks, toys, books and toiletry items.

“I watched my daughter-in-law open the bag and she was crying,” Adamo said. “It’s the little things that mean so much.”

Adamo became involved with the Mended Little Hearts organization as a volunteer six years ago and has continued her support as a coordinator over the years.

When she learned about the award program, she knew she had to nominate Riley, the place where her grandson has received most of his care, managed by cardiologist Dr. Adam Kean. But it’s her work with Mended Little Hearts that really opened her eyes to the whole Riley team, especially during the pandemic.

“THANK YOU IS NOT ENOUGH”

“Working with the nurses and Child Life and the Cheer Guild was amazing,” Adamo said. “They were always able to find a way to let us help. We can provide resources for peer-to-peer support, educational opportunities for parents and toys for the Echo lab.”

With COVID, it became a challenge to continue their work because they could no longer visit the Heart Center in person with their toy donations and Bravery Bags, Adamo said, “but Riley found ways to help us provide that support.”

“I thought that was amazing, when so many organizations just said no,” she said.

“They allowed us to continue our work in a way that was safe for the children and still provided needed support to families dealing with congenital heart disease. And I wanted those people at Riley to be recognized. Thank you is not enough,” Adamo said.

She couldn’t deliver that thank you in person this week, but her appreciation was shared with team members who gathered for a group photo with the “Best Hospital” plaque just outside the Heart Center.

Alisha Cook, a nurse navigator on the heart unit at Riley, said she and the entire team are thankful for Mended Little Hearts.

“They bring an aspect of connection to families that we as nurses and providers aren’t able to outside of the hospital,” Cook said. “They connect them to other parents, other resources, and they make it a little more personalized.”

Nancy Kehlenbrink, pediatric cardiac sonographer, said Mended Little Hearts has been very generous with the echocardiogram lab, providing toys to keep little ones amused while undergoing testing.

“Even 20-year-old kids would ask, ‘Do you still have the toy drawer,’” Kehlenbrink laughed. “And we didn’t, but now we do because Mended Little Hearts has been so generous. Every three months we get huge donations. Even the older kids like to get something.”

While she doesn’t get to look in someone’s eyes at Riley and tell them how much they mean to her and to all the families they’ve helped to support, Adamo said she is grateful that they know they are appreciated, even if it’s with a small plaque.

“We wanted to recognize the people who make our program successful. They meet us at the curb for carloads of toys, they inspect the toys, and they hand out the toys and Bravery Bags. They are grateful to us, and we are grateful for them,” she said.

“Aside from the support of our organization, our group of heart families has watched as nurses, doctors, child life and support departments have helped our warriors in so many ways,” she added. “I know I am not the only one who fully believes they not only save lives, but they mend hearts, physically and emotionally.”

The little boy who got her started on her journey with Mended Little Hearts is approaching his seventh birthday and is doing well today despite some developmental delays related to his illness, she said.

“He amazes me. He has the most incredible spirit, and he never gives up.”

A heart warrior indeed.

Riley’s cardiology and heart surgery department currently ranks fifth in the nation on the U.S. News & World Report hospital rankings report. It is the Midwest’s top-ranked hospital for children’s heart care.

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org

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